Tory mocks carers as 'the great unwashed'

THE Scottish Tories are embroiled in fresh controversy after a prospective MSP compared carers in a television programme to "the great unwashed", as another candidate was forced to stand down for describing Scots as "so thick".

• Wannabe MSP Colin McGavigan

The latest insult came from the Conservative candidate for Clydesdale, Colin McGavigan, who posted the comment on his Twitter page in response to a documentary about children in care.

His comments emerged as his party leader David Cameron praised "the compassion of our care workers" during his speech at the Conservative conference in Birmingham.

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Hours before the insult emerged, the Tory candidate for Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, Ivor Tiefenbrun, announced he was resigning after telling The Scotsman Scots were "so thick" for hating Margaret Thatcher.

Questions were also being asked about the Scottish Conservatives' press chief after he attempted to dismiss the original story about Mr Tiefenbrun with a statement that the candidate "denies using these words and does not hold these views".

Despite the party's denial of Mr Tiefenbrun's comments, the hi-fi entrepreneur and MBE issued a brief statement yesterday morning confirming he would no longer be standing for election.

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"There are many important issues facing our country and I have no desire for anything to divert my party - or indeed the media - from concentrating on those vital challenges," he said.

The Scotsman understands that senior party figures stepped into the row and suggested to Mr Tiefenbrun that he should resign following his remarks, which also included a claim that Scottish voters should "stop being sheep".

Scottish Conservative Party chairman Andrew Fulton said Mr Tiefenbrun's decision had been taken "in the best interests of the party".

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The episode surrounding Mr Tiefenbrun led a Tory insider at Holyrood to claim that there may be "fundamental flaws" in the process by which the party selects candidates.

The latest row over Mr McGavigan blew up after he posted a message on his social networking site Twitter, stating: "kids in care: why do the carers look like the great unwashed? They're supposed to be carers not warders."

The comments were made in response to a BBC documentary broadcast on Tuesday night, focusing on children in care.

Mr McGavigan was yesterday forced to express his "utmost respect" for carers in a statement issued by his party.

However, the Scottish Tories are set to allow him to continue as the party's Clydesdale candidate at next year's election on the grounds that they believe he has no case to answer.

A statement from him issued via the Tory press office said: "The above was merely a tweet I made late last night at a specific point in the BBC documentary Kids in Care', where I felt that carers were being badly portrayed and what was being shown at that point was a poor representation of the great work carried out by carers in our society.

"I have the utmost respect for the great and often unsung work carried out by carers in our society, and in no way would I wish to give the impression that I have anything other than deep admiration and the utmost respect for both them and the work they carry out.

"I was aware that a friend was also watching the programme and I took the opportunity to comment using Twitter as my phone was sitting on the arm of the chair.

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"With so few characters to use (on Twitter] if taken out of context I can understand where some confusion could arise."

SNP South of Scotland MSP Aileen Campbell accused Mr McGavigan of insulting carers.

She said: "Carers make a huge contribution to society and they deserve our thanks and respect.

"The Tories should not be adding insults to the injuries their cuts are inflicting on services, carers and those they care for across the country."

The row has blown up at a sensitive time for the Tory Party when it was striving to make inroads into "detoxifying" its reputation in Scotland and shake off the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

A leading Scottish Tory grandee who served as an MP at the height of Baroness Thatcher's Downing Street tenure last night said that the debacle surrounding Mr Tiefenbrun's resignation "could have been handled better".

Sir Albert McQuarrie, who was a Scottish MP between 1979 and 1987, said that Mr Tiefenbrun, who did not resign until two days after making the controversial comments and has yet to apologise, should have withdrawn the remarks immediately."He's done the honourable thing in stepping down and I'm afraid that, in politics, even if you apologise sometimes mud sticks," he said.

"He would have been targeted during the election campaign and it would have been difficult to live down.

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"Perhaps the whole thing could have been handled better earlier on. Lets hope it's a lesson learned."

Meanwhile, the Tory press office at Holyrood continued to refuse to answer a whole raft of questions from The Scotsman about Mr Tiefenbrun's departure, with the party refusing to elaborate on his resignation statement.

Scottish Tory media chief Ramsay Jones would not discuss why Mr Tiefenbrun had stepped down despite an earlier party statement on behalf of the candidate that he had not made the remarks reported in The Scotsman.

The Tory spin doctor also failed to say what steps he had taken to determine whether Mr Tiefenbrun had been accurately quoted and would not be drawn on why the party had not taken disciplinary action against the hi-fi tycoon.

SNP Glasgow MSP Bob Doris demanded that the Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie, who has remained silent throughout the episode, launch an internal inquiry into the matter.

Mr Doris said the fact that Mr Tiefenbrun had resigned as a candidate was "the strongest possible indication that he did make these outrageous, anti-Scottish remarks".

He said: "The only satisfactory response from Annabel Goldie to this deeply damaging situation - involving her own senior media officials, as well as a now former candidate - is for her to announce that she will convene an immediate party inquiry into all of the circumstances of the issue.

"Unless she does that, Tory credibility in Scotland will be at an absolute and all-time low."

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A Conservative Party insider at Holyrood backed some of the concerns raised by Mr Doris about the selection of Mr Tiefenbrun.

He said: "There may well be fundamental flaws in how the party selects its candidates.

"The flaw may lie with the candidates board, which allows candidates on to the list.

"The candidates board is there to vet people and alarm bells should have rung about this at some point before things began to spin out of control.

"Mr Tiefenbrun's comments were certainly inappropriate and unfortunate."